Juliet Lubega


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My ancestral home

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The drops of rain hit my window on this cold and dark January morning. I long for them to clear the snow which had been falling over the last few days. I turn to face the wall thinking of the summer months, hot, like in the land of my ancestors. It was the home of my grand father, where my father grew up and, I was born there in 1964.

The elegant banana trees tower below the sky, and their ever dark green leaves spread out like cobwebs. They shield the drying beans, wrapped in their shrinking pods from the scorching sun at this time of year. They protect the secrets of a family too. It is the final resting place of our fallen.

Some graves are un- marked; others are names with stories told by those who met them. In my mind, I can touch the faces of my three sisters while I walk through the plantation. Their laughter echoes through my ears. The good and sad times we shared are memories I hold on to in my sleep.

I shut my eyes and stop to greet Alice, the youngest. Eighteen years was too soon to go. Not a day goes by when I don’t think of her. Where would she be living? What would be her job? Would she be married? What about her children? It wasn’t to be.

I arrive at the tall palm tree. I know it is the place where our house used to be. I sat here playing with my dolls made of dry banana stems, ebyayi, their square heads without hair or eyes, with straight arms and no legs. I was oblivious to the world I now live in, where they walk and talk.

My mother was usually seated yards away, and often glanced her watchful eyes over my play. Weaving her bright coloured wool thread into patterns of artistic crotchet, her hands moved in rhythmical strides.

Whilst I lie in bed, thousands of miles away, across the seas and no earth road besides a matooke plantation. My ancestral home, Bubango village is forever in my heart.

 

©Juliet Lubega (unpublished 2017)

 

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It is 7 pm in Uganda

Around 7pm it was getting dark and the temperatures plummeting. I was sitting outside trying to keep warm in front on the burning charcoal stove. My son sat next to me observing how my niece was cooking sauce in a pan over the hostile flames.
The chicken appeared from the corner of the house walking towards us. He jumped up from his stool.
“Sit down” I told him.
“The chicken is coming” he replied.
“It just needs to pass to go to bed” I said.
“Where is it its bed?” he asked
“In the indoor kitchen” I replied.
“Do they all have beds?” he asked.
“Yes, at 7 pm every day, they all stop running around and go home?” I replied.
I explained that every chicken is trained by its owner to know its home. When we brought this one from the village, it was tied using a banana fibre by one leg, to a post near the house for 3 days to enable it to learn its surroundings. Then it was let to run freely around the neighbourhood during the day, pecking for food.
“When you see the chicken coming home, then you know it is 7 pm” I told him.
He looked at me in astonishment.
“Do you mean all the chicken know their homes?” He asked
“Yes they do” I replied.
He remained standing looking at the chicken as it walked past us; its head straight ahead towards the door, gliding like a ship on water, it went through two entrances and passed all the shopping we had brought earlier and settled down in its corner in the kitchen for the night.
My son shortly went in the kitchen to see if it was there. He came back with a big smile on his face.
“It will wake up at dawn” I told him.
“How will it get out of the house?” he asked
I explained to him that it will walk up to this back door, where it will wait and may crow or make chuckling noises until someone wakes up to let it out of the house for

©Juliet Lubega (unpublished 2016)

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Idi Amin ; A legacy or curse?

Idi Amin Dada, Africa’s most notorious dictator of the 1970’s.The 3rd President of Uganda since its independence from Britain in 1962.With virtually no formal education he rose through the ranks of the army from the colonial Kings Rifles through to being trained at Sandhurst (UK), until he seized power in a military coup from a civil government in 1971.He put Uganda and her people on the International stage for all the wrong reasons.
Idi Amin is the greeting that you get on the streets of Tottenham in North London when you introduce yourself as coming from Uganda. Very little tourist information is known about this small African state, the hospitality of its people and sense of community, the richness of its culture and language and its ever green vegetation.
Set at the Equator and nicknamed “the Pearl of Africa”, Uganda is home to the world’s highest mountain range, the Mountains of the Moon in the Ruwenzori National Park. It is the source the River Nile, the second longest river in the world, and it has the highest concentration of primates on earth, including the majestic mountain gorilla, one of the rarest animals on the planet. It is safer to say you are from Kenya or Tanzania, to avoid the reference to Idi Amin.
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Nagawa was born in London in 1991. Idi Amin’s Uganda bears little relevance to her. To this British born young girl, the story of Idi Amin as told in the film ‘The Last King of Scotland’ is the nearest she will ever get to understand.
I was busy typing away the corrections of my story from the creative writing course that I didn’t notice the shadow of Nagawa as she turned to open the front door. She was returning from an overnight stay and her school friend’s house in South London. “Hello Maama?” she said as her light brown face peered through the living room door where I was working. ”Hello, how are you? Did you enjoy the party and how is Kukuwa?” She sat in the brown leather sofa, fiddling with the bunch of keys and staring at me with a blank face. “What is the matter? I asked.
She recited what had happened at the party, at her Ghanaian friend Kukuwa’s house. When she introduced herself as coming from Uganda, the adults at the party wanted to know about Idi Amin. What did you say? I asked. “All I know about Amin is in the Last King of Scotland” she replied
I felt pain in my heart as I realized that the Idi Amin trail had found my daughter as she mixed in the social circles of the UK. I looked her and wondered how she was going to cope with the endless questions about Idi Amin and whether there was any possibility of this chapter in Uganda’s past fading from the world history. I realized how living in another country has brought us closer to this part of life we would rather stay away from, read about in books or watch in films.
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In Uganda, Idi Amin has been forgotten. His existence is firmly placed in the country’s history. During a family holiday in December 2012 I and my children visited the refurbished Mengo Palace, following the airing of the BBC 3 documentary ‘Under Cover Princess’ in 2010 that featured the Buganda Princess Cinderella Nvannungi. Formerly the official residence of the Kabaka of the Buganda Kingdom, it had been turned into the notorious Lubiri military barracks after the abolition of the Kingdoms in 1967.It holds now the derelict Idi Amin torture chambers where more than 300000 Ugandans are believed to have been electrocuted to death and their remains dumped in the nearby man made Lake;Kayanja ka Kabaka to feed crocodiles that were bred there. As the short dark well spoken man, our guide took us on a tour of the site, he informed us that it was a major attraction to tourists and we were shortly joined by 4 Kenyan tourists. He expected a group of German tourists in the coming hours. That was the only brush with the Idi Amin for the month we spent in Uganda.
However, The Last King of Scotland was waiting for us on board a British Airways return flight to London Heathrow in January 2013.A reminder of the inquiries and explanations about Idi Amin, Ugandans of all generations are faced with outside the country.

©Juliet Lubega (unpublished 2014)


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A unique city – Kampala,December 2012

It had been 20 years since I was in Uganda in December. The 20th of December in Kampala was a world away from London I and my children had left two weeks ago . The bitter cold wind, foggy mist , twinkling lights on the roadside light poles, lonely Christmas trees in open parks, decorations sparkling in every shop window, shoppers carrying bags of presents, Santa red and white fleece hats on sale and workers planning office parties to see their managers drunk.
Driving around Kampala all you could hear was occasional bursts of Christmas songs, like Sekukulu eyasokera ddala by the late Philly Lutaya or the timeless Mary’s boy by Bonny M from music shops. It was business as usual.
The sun was hot and unforgiving. The air was cloudy and filled with dust. The roads were full of pot holes but busy; mini buses packed with people, police men and women dressed in white manning congestion hot points and failed traffic lights. The boda boda motorcycles were whizzing around, squeezing between cars like termites, carrying people and goods.
A boda boda surged to over take us with woman passenger carrying a baby tied to her back. “Look Mum” my daughter shouted pointing at them. “They would be arrested in London” I replied. “Social Services would take the baby” she continued.
For my children this was the most unusual build up to Christmas they had ever experienced. They sat in silence as we drove past Makerere University. “This is my University” I said pointing to the main gate. “Oh yes, I remember we went inside during our last visit in 2001” my daughter said.
A new shopping mall has been built opposite the gate. I could see the colourful displays of dummies dressed in the latest fashion outfits, made to attract University students. “I can imagine spending all my money in this shopping mall in my days here”. I said. Its tinted glass walls were shining in the blazing sun, but there was no sign of the Christmas spirit.
“I haven’t seen a single decoration so far” my daughter said. “People here don’t decorate” I replied. “I can’t imagine what a tree with lights outside would look like in the hot weather” I continued. They both laughed. “I have never seen anyone selling a Christmas tree”. I said. “Do they grow them?” my son asked. “Hedges, sedero is what you can use to make a Christmas tree” I said. “With no decorations?” my daughter asked. “When I was young, I remember my mother putting cotton wool and some glitter, if she ever  made a tree” I replied.

Same old Kampala, not fussy about Christmas decorations, cards or presents.

©Juliet Lubega (unpublished 2014)


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A visit to Loi

We drove into a murram road leading into Sanje village to see Loi, my cousin and child minder of my pre-school years
I remembered how she used to dig in the matooke plantation or fetch water from the well; her clay pot sat on a flat hat of coiled dry banana stems to protect her head and for balance, whilst I was tied to her back. My legs spread out on both sides of her body and a tight cloth around me firmly tied in 2 big knots below her breasts. Since then I and Loi, now in her late 80’s developed a bond; she is my personal adviser and I phone her regularly from England. She had prepared lunch for us.
Loi lived in a red brick bungalow with glass windows, a heavy wooden brown door and a shinny corrugated iron roof top. Her compound was neat with thick short cut dark green grass and I felt guilty that we had to drive over it.
As we got out of the car, she appeared in the door way. Her dark face littered with wrinkles but with a twinkle in her eyes. She is a short woman, slightly bent with silver grey hair. She was wearing a blue busuuti tied together by a black sash and brown sandals. She can still walk without a stick and my daughter was very amazed at how speedy she was trotting around despite her fragility. Her mobile phone was in a small cloth bag at the end of a string and was hanging over her chest like a necklace.
I gave her a hug, and while I put my arms around her neck I looked at her frail back where I spent most of my pre school years and smiled to my self. She shook hands with my daughter and greeted her in Luganda “Osula otya no?” she responded “bulungi” in her English accent. Then she shook my son’s hand, they couldn’t speak and just nodded their heads.
She welcomed us in the house. Its furniture was a spread of beautifully coloured and stunning patterned mats, made out of dry palm tree leaves that she makes by hand, on a concrete floor. Different shades of yellow and cream mixed with purple, green and blue woven in and out of each other.
The lounge looked very large because there was nothing else apart from her work in progress mat coiled in a corner next to 2 piles of dry palm leaves; one was white and the other dyed blue. The walls were bare and the red bricks uncovered. A plain light green polyester curtain hang in the door way between the lounge and adjoining utility room. Through a side way gap in the curtain I could see a wooden cup board and some sauce pans, their exterior covered in dense black soot created by cooking with firewood.
She is unable to carry out her home chores now; fetch water from the well or plant beans and maize in her plantation and has a home helper. A tall woman with short masadde hair. Both laid out the lunch on cooked banana leaves placed on a kawempe, papyrus mat; matooke, rice, groundnuts sauce and beef stew.

While everyone ate with their hands, she had 3 forks for me and the children. I had thought about buying forks on our way here, but decided not to in order to enable the children to experience real African village life.
©Juliet Lubega (unpublished 2014)


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Used

Veronica felt hot and sweaty as she turned his words over and over in her mind. “I thought we were in this together?”She searched in his eyes for clues. He was stone faced and cold, with a smirk, he replied “What do you mean?”.”Starting a life together in the UK with the children” she said and kept her eyes straight into his.
A tear trickled down her cheek and she gently wiped it off with the tissue. She wasn’t sure why she was crying, maybe she felt sorry for him.
She gripped her palm and felt her warm sweat against the fluffy paper. She held on tight, biting her teeth together as she held her balance
He sat down on the red stool next to the dressing table. Holding his passport in his left hand and tapping his right foot on the burgundy bedroom carpet.
“We are going to live together?” he said as he turned the passport over and over as if his life now depended on it.
“You just said you are going to Uganda for six months” Veronica said.
“Yes but I am not going for good. Am I?” .He picked up a brush from the dressing table looking at her through the mirror.

Veronica moved from the bed and stood in view of the mirror. He was smiling to himself. She felt a surge of anger sweep through her body like a wave.
“You know we are four months in arrears on our mortgage” she reminded him.
“I know”
Whilst brushing his hair, he turned and looked at her
What is going to happen while you are away?
“I don’t know”
She opened her mouth and closed it.
“What?”
Where do you live?
“I live here”
His words hit Veronica like hot flame. The arrogance in his voice felt painful in her ears.
“Who is the father of these two children?”
“Me”
“Do you expect me to keep up with the mortgage and look after the children alone?”
He shrugged his shoulders. “Aren’t you working?”
“What are you going to do in Uganda anyway?”
“I will see”
His arrogance sent her head spinning
She realised that since Kagwa got a better job he has been saving up for this trip behind her back.

 

©Juliet Lubega (unpublished 2014)

 


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Audition

She looked at me. Her brown framed spectacles slanting towards the tip of her nose. Her short brown hair arranged in large waves. The expression on her face was seeking for an answer. I stared back unsure of what to say or do. Since she had announced that we were going to do a production of The Bird Catcher from Magic Flute by Mozart, I had occupied my self with looking outside through the large windows of the music room. It was annexed to Hutchinson house, the central dormitory in the school compound. I could see girls in pairs and small groups walking up and down the pavement. My hand was fumbling inside my uniform pocket, holding on to my blue handkerchief. I was contemplating putting myself forward for the auditions of the main character but it was my first term in Gayaza Singers and a junior. As an O’ level student I felt intimidated by the longer serving A’ level members.
Three A level girls came forward. Miss Hobday took off her glasses and wiped them with a white handkerchief. She run her hand through her hair and said “Can some O’ level students come forward too” her eyes fixed on me. I took a deep breath and felt my body usurped with confidence. There was silence and the girls looked on in anticipation. I slowly got up and walked to the front of the room and Miss Hobday broke into a smile to mark the achievement of her words of encouragement.
All my fears vanished as my voice filled the room with Handle’s Lascia ch’io pianga and I could see the beaming faces in front of me.
I re-lived the moment I performed ‘Embwa yange’ a traditional folk song I used to lead in primary school within weeks of my first year, four years earlier for my house, Cox during a singing competition. Not only did I catch the eye of the English music teacher Miss Hobday but whole school then knew who I was.

 

©Juliet Lubega (unpublished 2014)